She sits quietly in the distance, taking on a soft glow as sunset approaches. She is the guardian, the majestic one, the sleeping giant, the “jewel of the Northwest.” To the world she is known as Mount Rainier, although the local native tribes have always had their own name for it. Captain George Vancouver of the late 1700’s British Royal Navy was the one that changed the name to Mount Rainier in honor of a British military man who had never set foot on American soil. There have been public efforts over the years to change the mountain’s name to reflect it’s Native American origins.
On many a cloudy, dreary day in the Puget Sound region of Western Washington, the mountain is hiding her head in the clouds. Sometimes one can spot just the very top portion of her 14,410 foot summit peeking out above the clouds. But on those bright, sunny days of summer or on a clear, crisp winter day, she looms in the distance with a mighty presence that is hard to ignore.
One had better not ignore her. As mentioned earlier, she is a “sleeping giant,” a volcano with a violent history. Enormous lahars have flowed from her flanks, engulfing whole valleys below, flowing as far as the waters of Puget Sound. Plumes of smoke and ash will rise from her once again when she reawakens, and massive amounts of melting ice mixed with mud, boulders, trees, and anything else swept up along the way will once again inundate the now densely populated valleys that lie below her. But an eruption is not the only danger this mountain presents.
Mount Rainier is the tallest of the volcanic Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest, USA. Because of her height, she creates her own climate. Do not be deluded into thinking that all is calm up high on her flanks when all is calm in the valleys below. During winter storms, wind gusts of 100 mph are not uncommon at the higher elevations. Did I mention the snow? This is one of the snowiest places on Earth with hundreds of inches of snow piling up during the winter months. Many climbers from all over the world come to this mountain to ascend it and claim it as a trophy, others to just spend a day or two hiking and exploring. The mountain does claims its victims occasionally, and it has been particularly unforgiving this winter. A handful of climbers and hikers were trapped in a horrific, winter storm recently. Sadly, four of them have not been found even though a major search and rescue effort was made for two weeks to find them. Snowstorms of historic proportions ripped through the region recently while these brave souls were on the mountain. Hurricane force winds, bitter temperatures, and tens of feet of snow accompanied the storms. It is indeed a sad day when search and rescue efforts are called off. It is because in all probability that the mountain’s victims are no longer alive. One can only hope and pray that one day the mountain will reveal their locations so that they can be retrieved to help bring closure to the families.
This guardian, titan, sleeping giant… and yes… this unforgiving, majestic mountain, Mount Rainier, will always be a mighty presence to be revered and respected!